Blueprints to a Future-Proof Grid

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Blueprints to a Future-Proof Grid

Singapore’s energy grid is one of the most sophisticated in ASEAN, but like any grid in any country, there is room for improvement, including the Little Red Dot. In the lead-up to the Future of the Grid event, we spoke with Jimmy Khoo, the CEO of SP PowerGrid, and Pat Avery, the VP of the Power Grid Automation team for G&W Electric, about how Singapore could further future-proof its grid in preparation for the challenges to come.

Since November 2014, Singapore has endeavoured to be a ‘smart nation’ in which the city-state progressively has transformed through technology such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, and blockchain while bettering the lives of citizens.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong characterizes a ‘smart nation’ as a land where “we can create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagined possible.”

According to Goldstein Market Intelligence, the desire to develop Singapore into a ‘smart nation’ is strategic. Complimenting this strategy is to progress the smart grid market but also find a balance between the ‘energy tri-lemma’, energy security, economic competitiveness, and environmental sustainability for Singapore. Successfully embracing the energy tri-lemma would allow for the management of distributed energy resources and incorporating new initiatives, such as electric vehicles, which is an essential part of Singapore’s energy efficiency and sustainability roadmap. 

As part of their current roadmap, SP Group has been in the news a fair bit lately with innovative ways to solve their complicated energy and grid challenges such as lack of space for renewables, the adoption of renewable energy (RE), and electric vehicles (EV) with innovative solutions. From a trial of charging points that can remove energy from EVs back into the power grid to a subsea cable to send RE power to Singapore from Australia, the city-state certainly is not nervous about trailblazing with new techniques as long as they are efficient. 

Adaptability, knowledge, and reliability are paramount to grid optimisation, carrying the grid into its next stage of development, said Jimmy Khoo, CEO of SP PowerGrid. These new technologies are currently being implemented or experimented with, and they will continue to explore “smartness,” which will lead to further grid optimisation. However, there is still the unknown of how much the grid will continue to need to advance. 

“How do we then focus on what is traditionally expected of the power grid and still cater to the evolving demands of the future?” Jimmy asked. 

If we review the inventory of Singapore’s grid as it is today, there are certainly a myriad of ways the grid can continue to develop and eventually become future-proof. 

When looking at the Singapore grid as a whole, Pat Avery said he sees significant potential. An expert in his field, Pat said there had been a sharpening in focus related to technologies, business models and strategies enabling the digitalisation of distribution which all create endless possibilities for utilities.

A possibility Pat pinpointed was the suggestion, to automate and future-proof Singapore’s grid. By installing or upgrading to reliable communications infrastructure to automate their decentralisation of the grid, because it will be valuable and likely mandatory to manage the changes coming down the energy sector pipeline. 

With regards to communication opportunities, Pat said, “More and more utilities are designing digital substations which significantly help construction savings because you’re running fibre instead of copper cables. The speed of information travelling and sharing goes up significantly, and it’s safer to build, and so far they have proven to be fairly reliable, and this is one of the fastest-growing trends we’ve seen.”

Proper communication is vital, especially when integrating tools such as the internet of things (IoT), information technology (IT), and operational technology (OT) systems. In Pat’s opinion, he believes digital tools are the most transformative because of the ways in which they are able to optimise grid operations.

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The digitalisation of the grid is key for the advancement of utilities, but when we consider the grid of the future and the way it will differ from today, what will be the next generation? With the energy sector changing as rapidly as it is, visualizing what will come after the smart grid is key to ensuring the future for energy systems is bright instead of grim.

Part of avoiding grim realities will be tied to addressing decarbonisation of the grid to ensure net-zero goals are met. Pat said every country including Singapore will need to address SF6 or sulphur hexafluoride which is a potent and dogged greenhouse gas primarily utilized as an electrical insulator and arc suppressant.

“G&W Electric has spent millions of dollars to develop hybrid gas technology and solid dielectric technology to eliminate SF6 gas. So, I think that will be our biggest and most meaningful contribution in the reduction of greenhouse gasses,” Pat said.

As for the future, Pat sees the grid of the next 20 years or more after the smart grid clearly enough. 

“The future centralized grid will be underground, and a decentralized backup grid will have the same or more capacity to back up our traditional centralized grids. Grid decentralization and automation significantly improve grid reliability and resiliency,” Pat said. 

Regardless of the ideal grid of the future, the energy sector today is experiencing rapid change and preparation is the name of the game for utilities to ensure there is consistent reliability, maintaining flow of investments to uphold infrastructure all the while keeping it cost-effective for the consumers. 

As a wise man, or in this case, Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

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